Effective science teaching starts with the teacher trainers, says study

October 5, 2006

Brussels, 04 Oct 2006

In a new study looking at educational policies for school science teaching across 30 European countries, EURYDICE - the information network on education in Europe - has called for greater attention to be paid to the experience and qualifications of science teacher trainers. Science teacher education represents the main link between the theory and practice of science teaching at primary and lower secondary school levels. Teacher trainers play a central role in transmitting ideas not only about what to teach, but also about how to teach it. It is therefore of interest, according to the study, to look at the sort of qualifications and experience held by science teacher trainers.

The study finds that in 20 out of the 30 countries analysed, educational policies do specify the level of qualification required in order to train science teachers. In most cases, a master's qualification is called for, while in some countries only a bachelor's qualification is needed. In Estonia, Greece, Portugal and the Czech Republic, science teacher trainers are expected to hold a doctorate degree.

However, the study finds that many of these requirements are only applicable to training of science teachers for lower secondary school, and that for primary school, no such requirements exist. This is the case in Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal, where no requirements are specified.

In terms of teaching qualifications, the study finds that 14 of the countries under review require teacher trainers to possess a teaching qualification, while it is recommended in the five others countries. However, only a small number of countries, namely Denmark, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, require a specific qualification to train teachers. For the most part, teacher trainers are required to have experience themselves as teachers..

In all countries under review with the exception of Malta, the work of student teachers during practical placements is monitored by school staff members, mostly teachers themselves. However, the study finds that only a small number of countries require these 'mentors' to undergo special training.

In Estonia, for example, staff who act as mentors to prospective teachers during the 'on-the-job' phase should have at least five years of experience and have completed a university course geared specifically to assuming this kind of responsibility. In Romania, they have to receive specialised in-service training for mentoring students on placements. Some countries, such as Belgium and Italy, report local measures designed to ensure that supervisory responsibilities are given to persons with appropriate skills and experience.

The apparent lack of policy on training teacher trainers, the study argues, raises questions about how well trainee teachers are being equipped to teach science. It alludes to an absence of experience in education research among teacher trainers, which, it suggests, has resulted in student teachers missing out on important areas of training. An example is knowledge of 'common sense understanding', which the study finds to be missing in almost half of the education systems studied.

'Common sense understanding' refers to the way in which children start out with spontaneous ways of accounting for phenomena that are different from scientific ways of explaining and reasoning. If teachers fail to appreciate these spontaneous interpretations and to respond in appropriate ways, science learning is less confident and less effective. This is an important consideration, says the study, in view of the need to improve interest in science and increase recruitment to scientific disciplines.

Other areas highlighted by the study which require further thought by national education policy makers include revamping science curricula so that practical experiments are more innovative; using information technology more productively; and raising awareness among teachers of the different ways in which girls and boys approach science subjects in order to ensure a more balanced gender participation in mathematics, science and technology.Further information:

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